St Albans MP leads Parliamentary challenge against press regulation laws

Anne Main with Herts Ad editor Matt Adams

Anne Main with Herts Ad editor Matt Adams - Credit: Archant

A Parliamentary challenge calling for a reversal of government plans to impose draconian press regulation laws is being led by St Albans MP Anne Main.

Under Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, newspapers would be forced to sign up to a state-recognised system of regulation or face paying the costs of claimants in legal actions - even if the newspaper was found by a court to have told the truth.

Mrs Main has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) highlighting the significant consequences for local, regional and national publications if this measure is introduced.

It says that the state should have no role in regulating publications, and the commencement of Section 40 would curtail the freedom of the UK press and stifle investigative journalism.

She told the Herts Advertiser: “For over 300 years a free press has been uncovering injustices in the public interest. Having a non-state regulated press is one of the hallmarks of being British, and demonstrates the value that we attach to free speech.

“We have some of the best journalists and publications in the world who rely on their freedoms to do their work. By having state regulation, you are potentially leaving the door open to free speech being curtailed by the whim of the political weather.

“No one can deny that there have been extreme wrongdoings by some small sections of the press, however, there are laws to deal with this type of appalling behaviour. The press knew they had to shake themselves up and regain the trust of the people. They have done so by signing up to a strict and independent regulator, which is underpinned by contract law - not at the hands of politicians.

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“I took action in Parliament and responded to the Government’s consultation on press regulation because the threat to our free press has dire consequences. Section 40 will curtail free speech, place financially onerous burdens on those who don’t comply, and threaten the very existence of our treasured local press.

“Regulating the press in this way will have a chilling effect on journalism and would stifle investigative journalism. Section 40’s bullying overtones threatens the voices of our independent and local newspapers, and has implications for all printed publications. We cannot be lulled into going down this path, and losing a press that holds the powerful to account.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to protect the press’s freedom.”

The News Media Association, which represents 1,100 national and regional newspaper titles, says Section 40 represents an unfair and undemocratic attack on free speech which would cost the industry an estimated £100m a year and have a chilling effect on newspapers’ ability to expose wrongdoing and report on matters of public interest.

Herts Advertiser editor Matt Adams has written to MP Karen Bradley, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, urging her not to go ahead with the plans.

He said: “Section 40 would undermine press freedom and our ability to expose corruption and wrongdoing by making us vulnerable to stringent financial penalties even if we were proved to be in the right.

“The crippling weight of legal costs from “have-a-go” complainants would scare publishers away from covering crucial stories for fear of expensive reprisals.

“Instead we would be left with a handful of newspapers scared to publish anything other than fluffy stories which have no legal threat, with any controversial articles simply ignored. Is this the sort of media the Government believes this country deserves?

“We have already signed up to the high regulatory standards introduced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), and have in place detailed and complex procedures to respond to any complaints.”